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Inclusion Starts with You: Strategies for Leaders to Create a Psychologically Safe Workplace

Have you ever been in a meeting or group discussion where you had an idea or opinion, but felt too afraid to speak up and share it? Or maybe you've been in a situation where you felt like you couldn't be your true self because of fear of judgement or ridicule from others.

If you can relate to these experiences, you’re not alone. Many people have felt this way at some point in their lives, and it can have a negative impact on their ability to contribute and connect with others. In a work environment, this can lead to a lack of collaboration, decreased productivity, and ultimately, a less inclusive workplace culture.

This is where psychological safety comes in. Amy Edmondson, who coined this term, defines psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”.

Psychological safety can be considered the foundation of culture of inclusion. When individuals feel psychologically safe, they feel comfortable expressing their ideas, thoughts, and feelings without fear of negative consequences. This creates an environment where diverse perspectives and opinions are valued, and everyone feels like they can contribute and be themselves and people can freely be “themselves”.

When this happens, team members are more likely to contribute creatively and take risks, which can lead to increased innovation and problem-solving. Additionally, it also promotes collaboration and teamwork, as team members feel that their contributions are valued and that they can rely on their colleagues for support which further leads to improved job satisfaction and employee retention.

To unlock the full potential of your team, it’s essential to establish psychological safety in the workplace. As a leader, you should regularly assess whether you are promoting a culture of inclusion and psychological safety in your team. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine if your team feels that you are creating a psychologically safe environment:

  1. Are your team meetings primarily focused on you speaking, or do your team members feel comfortable contributing and expressing their opinions?
  2. Does your team feel comfortable taking risks and trying new approaches, or do they stick to familiar methods to avoid criticism or negative feedback?
  3. Are your team members willing to admit mistakes and learn from them, or do they feel the need to cover up errors to avoid judgement or punishment?
  4. When something goes wrong, is there a tendency to play the blame game or point fingers, or is the team able to work together to identify the problem and find solutions without assigning blame?
  5. Are team members willing to collaborate and share credit for success, or do they compete with one another to avoid being seen as the weakest link?
  6. Is constructive feedback given in a way that is respectful and supportive, rather than punitive?
  7. Do team members feel that their input is valued and considered, or do they feel like their contributions go unnoticed or unappreciated?

If these questions have highlighted areas where you may need to improve psychological safety in your team, don’t worry – there are many approaches you can take to cultivate a culture of inclusion and safety. Here are few tips and tricks that can help:

1. Communicate openly and frequently:

Encourage open communication and create opportunities for feedback to promote transparency, collaboration, and trust. Example: Schedule regular team meetings and one-on-ones to foster open dialogue and provide an avenue for employees to voice their concerns.

2. Rethink Vulnerability:

Oh, now this might be easier said than done. But, Imagine a leader who is known for being very confident and self-assured. During a team meeting, this leader shares that they made a mistake in a recent project and apologizes for any negative impact it may have had. This vulnerable admission can help team members feel more comfortable admitting their own mistakes or uncertainties, and can encourage open and honest communication. As a result, the team may be more likely to share feedback, brainstorm new ideas, and work together to solve problems, ultimately leading to better outcomes for the project and the team.

3. Keep your humor in check:

While humor can be a great way to relieve tension and foster connection within a team, it’s important to be aware of the impact your jokes may have on others. Sometimes humor can be used to belittle or insult others, even if it’s not intended. For example, making fun of someone’s accent or using stereotypes can make team members feel excluded or disrespected. As a leader, it’s important to be mindful of your humor and make sure it’s not at the expense of others’ feelings or dignity. Encourage humor that is inclusive, respectful, and brings people together, rather than pushing them apart.

4. Foster a learning mindset:

It is not as technical as it sounds. It’s all about Encouraging continuous learning and growth. It not only helps team members develop new skills and knowledge, but also signals that it is safe to make mistakes and take risks. For example, if a team member shares a new idea that doesn’t work out, instead of criticizing or blaming, encourage them to learn from the experience and apply it to future projects. This will help to create an environment where team members feel safe to share their opinions and ideas, knowing that they will be respected and valued.

5. Lead by example:

This means demonstrating the behaviors you want to see in your team, such as actively listening to others, showing empathy, and taking ownership of your mistakes. When you model these behaviors, it creates a ripple effect throughout the team and encourages others to do the same.

6. Listen Actively:

Active listening is an essential skill for leaders who want to foster a psychologically safe culture. It involves focusing on the speaker, providing feedback, and seeking to understand their perspective. One effective way of doing this is paraphrasing or summarizing what the speaker has said to ensure that you have understood their point of view correctly. Another is asking open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings. Additionally, leaders can demonstrate empathy by acknowledging the speaker’s emotions and showing a willingness to understand their perspective.

In today’s fast-paced and constantly changing work environment, building a culture of psychological safety and inclusion is more important than ever. It is a process that takes time and effort, but trust me, the rewards are immeasurable. By considering the above-mentioned approaches, leaders can build a culture that promotes collaboration, innovation, and success for the entire organization.

Written by Anjali Bhardwaj


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